A letter from Virginia, January 1864

by Fred Ray on May 3, 2008 · 0 comments

I recently had the privilege of doing some research at the Perkins Library at Duke University in Durham. It has, I am told, the largest collection of unpublished Confederate manuscripts in the world. I had only a day and could barely scratch the surface, but I can tell you there’s a lot there. Duke is a beautiful campus, but like many others the traffic is bad and parking next to impossible. Once you get in, however, the staff is friendly and helpful.

Just as a sample here is a letter from a North Carolina officer to his brother in January, 1864, giving a candid assessment of the war and prospects of peace.

A soldier’s life, in time of war, is the roughest existence possible; and it is an indisputable fact that we, of the Army of Northern Virginia, experience great hardships as any soldiers ever did. No man in this whole army of 40,000 men can say, with truth, that any part of his previous life was not preferable to his life here. Therefore, when all men agree that this is the most miserable state of existence that can possibly be, there must, of necessity, be something hard and particularly uninviting about it. The people at home seem to be considerably discouraged about the war, and a great many, I understand, are in favor of peace on any terms. It is probably needless to say that if the question were put to the vote in the army, the vote for peace would be “stupendous”! The privates, as a general thing are decidedly sick and tired of it, and one or two officers are beginning to desire a small affair of peace and quiet. It is rather discouraging to reflect that while we are suffering all that men can suffer, the people at home are almost ready to back out and give up the business. It is painful for a man to think that he must suffer and die for a cause that may be rendered execrable by a “reconstruction” at some future day. … Now with the army half-fed, badly clad, and almost entirely bare footed, with the people down-hearted and sighing for any peace, and with a stubborn administration and an incompetent Congress – what’s the prospect? Not very brilliant perhaps!


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